As he explained just what went wrong on the fateful final play Sunday — “I was trying to be patient and thinking too much” — Cam Newton had a surprising assessment of a mostly empty CenturyLink Field.
“I would say it was a hostile environment,” said the Patriots quarterback, who has ample experience in the Clink’s unfriendly confines. “I would still consider it a hostile environment, with them being so comfortable in their home stadium.”
Newton was speaking of a subtle, understated and frankly limited home-field advantage for the Seahawks. What they usually get is thundering, in-your-face cacophony from the 12s, the kind that registers on seismographs, befuddles opposing offensive linemen and provides the sort of juice that Seattle’s players drink thirstily.
There was much to savor in the Seahawks’ 35-30 victory over New England — led by another exquisite effort by Russell Wilson and an exhilarating goal-line stand in the final seconds. There was much to fret about, too — led by the fact that the pass rush was mostly nonexistent, and Seattle’s league-worst defense was carved up again for 464 yards — 397 through the air. According to Pro Football Reference, the 831 passing yards allowed by Seattle through two games is the second most in NFL history.
That obviously must be rectified or risk Wilson’s magic being for naught. But one factor that bodes well for Seattle is that in the absence of fans, with thundering silence as the soundtrack, the Seahawks were able to conjure up their own energy that sustained them throughout a tough, hard-fought, victory.
Otherwise, it could have turned into their most agonizing loss, post-Super Bowl XLIX.
It was the sort of game that would have had the place righteously rocking under normal circumstances. As L.J. Collier said, still flush with the glow of his hit on Newton that saved the game at the 1-yard line, “Imagine if we had fans here today. Seattle would still be shaking.”
That was a prevailing theme — a wistful reckoning of the noise that could have been. Tight end Will Dissly tweeted after the game, “Man … just thinking of how loud it would have been on that last play if the 12s where there.” And Pete Carroll began and ended his postgame soliloquy on the game with a lament over the absence of the fans.
“We missed you so much,” Carroll said. “I can’t tell you. We are so used to this extraordinary following and crowd and energy and juice and all that. I don’t know if you saw our guys, but our guys were trying to fill in for you. … I just think it would have been so crazy for all the fans. I hope you went nuts in doing what we were talking about doing, and enjoyed the heck out of it.”
Piped-in noise can take you only so far. The hostility of which Newton spoke had to be self-generated, and the Seahawks had a multifaceted approach. They tried to rally even more than usual around hard sticks like Cody Barton’s tackle on a kickoff — “the hit of the night,” Carroll called it.
Certainly, the ferocious one-on-one matchup between wide receiver DK Metcalf and Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore, which pulsated with tension from the first play of the game and at one point flowed into a near-fight on the Seattle sideline, in itself set a tone of intensity.
“It was an illustration of two real frickin’ warriors that wanted to go at it,” said Carroll. “It’s a cool part of the game inside the game that matched up like that. … (Metcalf) didn’t back off for a second.”
The Seahawks had to overcome an early Wilson pick-six off a bobbled catch by tight end Greg Olsen that would have sucked the air out of a full CenturyLink. The damage was ample. As Carroll said, “Those seven points seemed to be hanging over us all night.”
To newcomer Jamal Adams, however, Seattle’s response was a huge factor in the game as well — particularly from someone who has seen his former team, the Jets, wilt under such adversity.
“You talk about poise, you talk about calmness, you talk about swagger — the energy was still there,” Adams said. “Everybody came to the sideline and was like, ‘No sweat. Don’t panic.’ “
Adams himself is proving to be a human psych-up machine for the Seahawks. Mind you, his game on Sunday had flaws that he was quick to own up to. He missed at least one tackle on a blitz that turned into a big play for Newton, and was gashed for some big plays by, in particular, Julian Edelman.
“He needs to clean things up,” Carroll said of Adams. “There is a lot of football out here that he is working on to get right. He’s an incredible football player. He has 20-something tackles the first two weeks and two sacks. He’s a fantastic player and we love him. He’s such an igniter for the energy of this team, and our guys really feed off him and all that.”
Adams’ assessment of Seattle’s defensive woes, which emerged most alarmingly after they took a seemingly safe 35-23 lead with 4:24 left to play, was that their aggressive mindset periodically lapsed. Perhaps that was the absence of the crowd’s exhortation coming into tangible play.
“We didn’t attack it enough, you know, as players on the defensive side,” he said. “We didn’t try to win it at times like we could have, really put the game away. I know I gave up a deep ball, which should not happen. I’ve got to get better and I took full credit for that. Listen, we’re gonna get better, and that’s what matters.”
Wilson’s five strikes of touchdown perfection were in themselves a guaranteed lift, even without the crowd reaction that would have ensued with increasing gradations of delirium.
But the crux of the game Sunday came down to the final play — first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, three seconds remaining, New England down five points. If Newton had scored, the collapse of the Seahawk defense would have been the prevailing story line, along with Seattle’s decision to go, unsuccessfully, for a long pass to Tyler Lockett on third-and-one on the previous possession.
At the 1, the almost otherworldly roar that would have prevailed at that fraught moment had to be replicated in the mind’s ear. Bobby Wagner told the defense in the huddle, “That ball’s going right.” Adams initially told K.J. Wright he was going to leap over the line in anticipation of Newton trying to reach the end zone by going airborne over the center. But when he saw the Patriots’ formation, and realized that Wagner’s instincts were correct, he yelled to Wright, “No, no, cut it off, cut if off.”
On that play, the Seahawks defense worked in unison, with Lano Hill fighting off his block to turn Newton toward Collier, who brought down the quarterback.
Under normal circumstances, that would have brought down the house. Instead, the Seahawks’ own celebration, which would have otherwise been drowned out, came through vividly.
“You miss the fun of it all — this game is meant to be played in front of thousands and thousands of people, it’s so special,” Wilson said. “But at the same time, no matter where you play, you’ve got to love it just as much. The feelings and the emotions and everything else just comes out of you, just playing the game.”
On Sunday, the Seahawks conjured up enough emotion, at the right time, to save themselves from the most hostile of outcomes.